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areteus
01-07-2012, 03:27 PM
Not sure if this belongs in the politics section, here or somewhere else. Opted for here as it is easier and I assume someone will move it...

Ok, writers, what do you think of this:

https://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/books/2012/jan/05/jrr-tolkien-nobel-prize?fb_source=other_multiline&fb_action_types=news.reads

Were they right to overlook Tolkien for a Nobel, or any of the other writers who were nominated in this instance? Curious to see how people react to this...

Terie
01-07-2012, 05:44 PM
Yes, they were absolutely right to overlook Tolkien for a Nobel Prize, IMO. I adore Tolkien's work, but its biggest flaw is also what makes it unworthy of a Nobel Prize: poor characterisation.

Tolkien was a master at what he was doing: creating a mythology.

But to me, the Nobel Prize is for writers who are masters at reflecting the human condition and expressing truths about it. Tolkien didn't do that.

gothicangel
01-07-2012, 05:54 PM
But to me, the Nobel Prize is for writers who are masters at reflecting the human condition and expressing truths about it.

This.

I've always thought of the Noble Prize is for writers, who do something extraordinary. Like Pasternak and Rushdie, who write and publish books at great risk to their lives and liberty.

Phaeal
01-07-2012, 06:17 PM
Adding this link, as the one above doesn't work for me:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/poll/2012/jan/06/tolkien-nobel-prize

Anyhow, what's the big surprise? Since when did the Nobel committee consider the authors of fantasy (and other popular genres)?

A list of just ten revered writers shunned by Nobel:

Vladimir Nabokov
Philip Roth
Marcel Proust
James Joyce
Anton Chekhov
Jorge Luis Borges
Leo Tolstoy
Ezra Pound
Mark Twain

(Oh, wait, not really any genre writers there, either. Oh well. Even though they weren't genre writers, I guess none of these guys reflected on the human condition or expressed truths about it either.)

The above list appears below, along with some thoughts about the politics behind the writers' failure to get the Nobel nod:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/07/nobel-prize-in-literature_1_n_752826.html#s151481&title=Vladimir_Nabokov

Anyhow, with any prize you have to consider the selection process. For the Nobel in Literature, it's:

Qualified entities only can submit nominations. The qualifications are:

1. Members of the Swedish Academy and of other academies, institutions and societies which are similar to it in construction and purpose;

2. Professors of literature and of linguistics at universities and university colleges;

3. Previous Nobel Laureates in Literature;

4. Presidents of those societies of authors that are representative of the literary production in their respective countries.

(The Nobel Committee sends 600-700 letters of invitation to nominate to qualified individuals and institutions. Other qualified but uninvited entities may also nominate.)

The Nobel Committee for Literature (4-5 members) then select five "priority" candidates, which it submits to:

The Swedish Academy (18 members), which considers the work of the five priority candidates, then selects a winner.

So, in effect, 22-23 people make the big decision, based on nominations from a highly select group. No biggie -- the sponsors of a prize get to pick their rules and set their standards. However, just saying, this is no "people's choice" award.

If it were, I daresay Stieg Larsson would have trampled all over Tomas Transtomer for the 2011 Nobel. Well, apart from being dead, but that's not his fault. ;)

thothguard51
01-07-2012, 06:24 PM
Considering how most literary professors, reviewers, etc feel about genre specific books, no, it is not surprising.

Considering that CS Lewis nominated him, another author of fantasy, I think Tolkien went in with two strikes against him to start with.

KaiaSonderby
01-07-2012, 06:56 PM
What did surprise me is that the reason was his prose. I'm not a Tolkien fan and I think there are major flaws with his work, but his prose is not the problem.

If I were to choose a reason to withhold the award for his work, it would be the archetypal characters and the overly simplified morals and ideals. (To get more modern, I would also take points off for the racism and sexism, but that's another debate, in the end.)

Terie
01-07-2012, 07:20 PM
Even though they weren't genre writers, I guess none of these guys reflected on the human condition or expressed truths about it either.

Well, and who said that EVERY writer whose work reflects on the human condition or expressed truths about it should get a Nobel Prize? That particular complaint is a bit silly. :)

All I said was that Tolkien's work mostly doesn't, particularly not on the 50% of the human condition that's, yanno, female.

Shakesbear
01-07-2012, 08:20 PM
This.

I've always thought of the Noble Prize is for writers, who do something extraordinary. Like Pasternak and Rushdie, who write and publish books at great risk to their lives and liberty.

Looking down the list of Laureates since the end of WWII there are, imo, a preponderance of writers who had no risk to their life and liberty. See here: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/

Jamesaritchie
01-07-2012, 08:55 PM
Well, I'm not fan of the Nobel Prize for literature. For the last twenty-five or thirty years, I believe it's more political and ideological than anything.

I'd rather read Tolkien, or even Louis L'Amour, than most of the Nobel Prize winners during the last thirty years. If you look at the full list, here and there a writer pops up who really was a good, and popular, writer, but for the most part is a long, long list of who the hell cares writers, and books that few will ever read for pleasure, or at all, unless forced to in a college literature class.

Screw the Nobel. Tolkien probably has more fans than any dozen of the Nobel Prize winners put together.

gothicangel
01-07-2012, 09:45 PM
Looking down the list of Laureates since the end of WWII there are, imo, a preponderance of writers who had no risk to their life and liberty. See here: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/

I believe I said that was the impression I have of the Noble. As in the organization who give out the Noble Peace Prize.

CrastersBabies
01-07-2012, 10:23 PM
Not surprising, no. But, given his response to the industrial revolution through his writing in the LOTR trilogy, he seemed to be "green" before his time. He also had a lot to say about war and technology--tanks in particular, if I am remembering correctly.

I know he was there during a part of the Battle of Somme. That, in and of itself, would probably break any man. I truly believe he found solace in his writing and that a lot of his wartime experiences and comrades found their way into his stories.

But, regardless of how beautiful and thoughtful I find his work (and its contribution to the notion of peace), I can see why it was overlooked. Perhaps it's one of those things where time softened the bias.

Xelebes
01-07-2012, 10:45 PM
Well, I'm not fan of the Nobel Prize for literature. For the last twenty-five or thirty years, I believe it's more political and ideological than anything.

I'd rather read Tolkien, or even Louis L'Amour, than most of the Nobel Prize winners during the last thirty years. If you look at the full list, here and there a writer pops up who really was a good, and popular, writer, but for the most part is a long, long list of who the hell cares writers, and books that few will ever read for pleasure, or at all, unless forced to in a college literature class.

Screw the Nobel. Tolkien probably has more fans than any dozen of the Nobel Prize winners put together.

True, I have only read Seamus Heaney (his translation of Beowulf) and the others don't hold much appeal.

Phaeal
01-07-2012, 11:43 PM
Well, and who said that EVERY writer whose work reflects on the human condition or expressed truths about it should get a Nobel Prize? That particular complaint is a bit silly. :)

All I said was that Tolkien's work mostly doesn't, particularly not on the 50% of the human condition that's, yanno, female.

I didn't say every writer of worth should get a Nobel Prize. I was implying that the Nobel Committee has not always been accurate in choosing the writers who endure in common parlance -- and on bookshelves worldwide. You know, like Twain, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Nabokov, Pound, Proust, Roth, Borges, and Joyce. Oh, and Tolkien. And many others among the Nobel rejects.

Being one of those provincial and ignorant Americans a Nobel Committee member censured not long ago, I don't know the works of Henrik Pontoppidan, Knut Hamsun, Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Grazie Deledda and Salvatore Quasimodo. However, I daresay more people would recognize the names in my first list than in this second.

My point being that one need not ascribe ultimate authority in literary excellence to the Nobel Committee and Swedish Academy, or to any other awarder of prizes or compiler of lists. The only ultimate authority is the individual reader. Hook enough of them, your book survives and thrives in the communal literary pool, long after you've won your awards, or not.

Finally, as a member of the female half of the population, I still find that Tolkien "reflects" and "expresses" pretty damn good. So do books by either gender that focus on women rather than men. I would and do hate to see them downgraded on the basis of character gender, so I have to do the same for the boys.

willietheshakes
01-08-2012, 12:03 AM
I didn't say every writer of worth should get a Nobel Prize. I was implying that the Nobel Committee has not always been accurate in choosing the writers who endure in common parlance -- and on bookshelves worldwide. You know, like Twain, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Nabokov, Pound, Proust, Roth, Borges, and Joyce. Oh, and Tolkien. And many others among the Nobel rejects.

Being one of those provincial and ignorant Americans a Nobel Committee member censured not long ago, I don't know the works of Henrik Pontoppidan, Knut Hamsun, Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Grazie Deledda and Salvatore Quasimodo. However, I daresay more people would recognize the names in my first list than in this second.

My point being that one need not ascribe ultimate authority in literary excellence to the Nobel Committee and Swedish Academy, or to any other awarder of prizes or compiler of lists. The only ultimate authority is the individual reader. Hook enough of them, your book survives and thrives in the communal literary pool, long after you've won your awards, or not.

Finally, as a member of the female half of the population, I still find that Tolkien "reflects" and "expresses" pretty damn good. So do books by either gender that focus on women rather than men. I would and do hate to see them downgraded on the basis of character gender, so I have to do the same for the boys.

It's not the Nobel's role to reflect which authors "endure in the common parlance" - that's what bestseller lists and reprints are for.

goldmund
01-08-2012, 12:18 AM
I don't know the works of Henrik Pontoppidan, Knut Hamsun, Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Grazie Deledda and Salvatore Quasimodo. However, I daresay more people would recognize the names in my first list than in this second.

My point being that one need not ascribe ultimate authority in literary excellence to the Nobel Committee and Swedish Academy, or to any other awarder of prizes or compiler of lists.

I fail to see a logical connection between the first paragraph and the second.

What does recognising a name have in common with literary excellence? Of the writers you've mentioned in the "second group" I know only Knut Hamsun... but his Hunger and Growth of the Solil are unforgettable.

blacbird
01-08-2012, 10:36 AM
The Nobel (not Noble, by the way) Prize for Literature has been awarded over the century-plus of its existence to some writers now in the eternally-great category, and others in the eternally-forgettable category. But it is, essentially, an award for "literary" writers, whether anyone here likes that or not. Stephen King and Dean Koontz are never going to win the Nobel Prize (not that either of them care). And, yes, we can list any number of great writers who never got the Prize (Graham Greene comes to mind, or Japanese novelist Kobo Abé, who died too young, or Kurt Vonnegut, probably the American at the top of the possible pile at the time of his death).

And some of the writers who have won in relatively recent years have subsequently come to be recognized as really significant literary figures (García Marquez, Milan Kundera), whom we benighted Yank colonials might not have paid as much attention to as we should.

The record of the Nobel winners, for career achievement, is generally better than the record of Pulitzer or Booker winners, for an individual work, both of which have honored novels now regarded as fish-wrapper quality.

And it maybe should be mentioned that a rule of the Nobel Prize, in any category, is that it will not be given posthumously. I believe a recent one in a science category was rescinded, after its announcement, because the named recipient died before the acceptance ceremony.

Hugos and Nebulas honor writers in the SF/Fantasy genres. Edgars for Mysteries.

So, I hereby announce the first ever Cawie, the Blacbird Prize for Most Neglected Great Novel. This Award will be made annually, and recipients are eligible even if they have become biologically vitality-challenged. Genre or nationality is not an issue. The Award is made for a single fictional work of book-length (the precise definition of that to be determined by the Award committee, which consists of me). The Prize will consist of recognition and badgering promotion in this, and possibly other venues of literary discussion.

This First Annual Award Recipient will be named . . . tomorrow.

caw

Maxinquaye
01-08-2012, 01:09 PM
First, the Nobel is not a prize for books written. It's a prize for a body of literary work over a life-time. So, there will be no 20-somethings ever on that list, no matter how good a writer.

Old Alfred, Alfred Nobel, put quite a few stipulations in his will - which guides the awarding of the prizes. It should be "idealist" and "add to the human excellence". That goes for all the prizes. Except maybe for the peace prize that's been subsumed, quite a bit, by political considerations. It's awarded by politicians in the Norwegian parliament, so there goes. But the others, the Swedish ones, are still awarded by expert committees in their field - in this case the Swedish writers that have been deemed important enough to be invited to sit in the Academy. Writers like Astrid Lindgren and Peter Englund.

Third, you can't avoid subjectivity in these prizes. I mean, it's what a bunch of men and ladies of the Royal Swedish Academy likes in the end. You can't really get away from that in this prize, or in any prize, whether it's called Booker's of Hugo's or whatever.

Fourth, they're Europeans so they're going to be mostly subjective toward bodies of work that speak to their European tastes, which means there will be Yelinek's in that list because, gasp, Yelinek's might be unheard of in London and New York, but Germans read them. ;)

areteus
01-08-2012, 03:27 PM
Yes, the awards can never be awarded posthumously. This was the reason why Darwin never got one (a common argument of the Creationists is that he was never awarded a Nobel prize but they fail to take into account that he died a while before the first one was ever awarded).

I agree that the prose sounds like a bad excuse. I would have said 'not made a significant enough contriubution to the body of literature'.

Phaeal
01-08-2012, 06:04 PM
It's not the Nobel's role to reflect which authors "endure in the common parlance" - that's what bestseller lists and reprints are for.

Reprints, yes. The long-term endurance of today's bestsellers is another question, as it's ever been.

IceCreamEmpress
01-09-2012, 12:17 AM
A lot depends on what authors translate best, too, which tends to favor writers of ultra-spare poetry and prose (Coetzee, Jelinek, Pinter, Simon, Szymborska, Oe, and so on).

James, what "political ideology" do the last twenty years of Nobel laureates in literature share? I look at the list and I see libertarian politician (and now a Spanish aristocrat) Mario Vargas Llosa, anti-apartheid and socialist activist Doris Lessing, extremely conservative writer V. S. Naipaul, conservative anti-Communist writer Octavio Paz, anarcho-Communist writer Jose Saramago, Labor Party gadfly Harold Pinter, and a bunch of writers who seem not to be interested in politics at all.

Phaeal
01-09-2012, 10:11 PM
The Nobel Committee uses a sekrit political algorithm. Also an even sekriter authorial underwear preferences algorithm. I believe the underwear algorithm often cancels out the political algorithm. I mean, black velvet-lined chain mail thongs? Who CARES what your political views are -- you rock!*



* No, I'm not telling which of these authors wore black velvet-lined chain mail thongs. Just read between the lines of their books.

areteus
01-09-2012, 11:51 PM
Don't all authors wear those? *looks suspicious*

shaldna
01-10-2012, 02:57 PM
You know I'm a big Tolkien fan, and I adore his writing, but it's more a social commentary than actually good writing. He tends to waffle on, and repeat himself, and get lost in what he was trying to say. Reading Tolkien is, very often, quite hard work.

I think they were right in their decision.

But what breaks my heart and utterly infuriates me is that Robert Frost - surely the greatest poet in the last 100 years - was turned down because they thought he was too old.

orion_mk3
01-11-2012, 01:22 AM
If whether an author was difficult to read or not mattered to the Swedish Academy, I daresay we'd have a very different list of Nobel laureates.

If I were to get irate over any given Nobel slate, though, it would be 1974, when Nobel judges Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson gave themselves the award over folks like Greene and Nabokov.

blacbird
01-11-2012, 09:36 AM
If I were to get irate over any given Nobel slate, though, it would be 1974, when Nobel judges Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson gave themselves the award over folks like Greene and Nabokov.

I was just about to post that the British Tolkien contemporary most deserving of the Nobel Prize, who never won it, was Graham Greene. Allegedly because of a prejudice against British Catholics.

Perhaps we should start a thread about writers eligible for the Nobel Prize, and worthy of it, who never won. I'd put Greene at the top of my list.


Ah . . . . I do believe I'll start just such a thread, right here, right now:

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=6901529#post6901529

caw
caw